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Missionary kid shares about ‘the girl in the story’

EDITOR’S NOTE: This year’s Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention was Nov. 30-Dec. 7 with the theme of “One Sacred Effort — Find your place in God’s story” from Matthew 28:19-20 (HCSB). The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches support approximately 4,800 international missionaries in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at imb.org/offering, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year’s goal is $175 million.

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — People say everyone has a story, but I think every person is a story: a living, breathing, walking, heart-beating book. Some people create their own stories, while others are forced into them. My story falls into the latter category.

Some of you reading this may recognize me as “the girl from the article” or “the girl who was kidnapped.” See related story.

On the other hand, some of you may not have the slightest idea who I am, so I’ll start from the beginning.

I was 7 years old when my story took its first drastic turn. Responding to God’s calling in each of their lives, my parents packed, sold or gave away our belongings and bought one-way plane tickets to Costa Rica. We lived there one year to attend language-learning school, then moved to Guatemala, where my parents still live and serve with an indigenous people group.

This would change the projection of my life and would forever mark my life as different from most of my peers. I would not lead the typical American life or be your average American kid because of the different culture in which I was immersed.

After a few years, I became accustomed to life in Guatemala. In fact, it became to me a fairly “normal” life as I entered my teen years. Our village in Guatemala was a nice place to live; my family and I were blessed. Of course, there were ups and downs, but overall I was content. My spiritual life was the same. My parents had raised me and my brothers in God’s Word and taught us that the stories it held were true. Yet, looking back, I think it’s safe to say that I had not yet truly experienced God.

On the night of Oct. 23, 2006, that changed. What began as a normal trip to the grocery store for a 13-year-old girl and her mom, ended in a carjacking at gunpoint. I was thrown headfirst into a sea of chaos as one of the carjackers hustled my mother from the driver’s seat, removing her from the vehicle. She lay on the street, unharmed, yet in shock as she realized that the vehicle driving away held her daughter. I was still in the passenger seat.

I panicked, of course, and sat for a few moments in terror, knowing that I had no control of this situation.

My moment of panic quickly changed into a moment of relinquishment when I realized there was nothing I could do. I knew I was helpless, so I began to pray. The moment the name of God left my lips in a cry for help, the entire atmosphere calmed. I was still on edge, and I still had no idea what was going to happen to me, but I knew I was taken care of because God was writing this story, not me.

The men only wanted the vehicle. They soon dropped me off, and my family and another missionary brought me home. The trauma had passed, and slowly we began to move on with life.

But the story doesn’t end there, because God never sets down His pen.

My family recovered from that night. I never had any trouble sleeping, nor did I suffer from fear or anxiety, and for that I am grateful. My struggles stemmed from the reactions I received from others. I didn’t know if I should tell people what had happened to me, so for a while I kept quiet. In Guatemala and in the United States, people I knew would avoid the topic. Others wouldn’t talk to me at all, they would just wonder if I was OK or if at any second I was going to have an emotional breakdown. Most of the time I wished someone else would bring it up, because I didn’t know how.

On the other hand, even years later, some people would walk right up to me and say how proud they were of me or how my story changed their lives. I never knew how to take that. I had no control over what had happened to me, so I didn’t think I could take any credit for how it turned out.

As a pre-teen trying to figure out who I was, I wanted to fit in and be “normal,” not stand out for something unusual that happened to me. Although it was a crucial moment in my life, I didn’t feel like it should define me.

Looking back, I realize there was no way around it. Although I often resented the way people labeled me as “that girl,” I was “that girl,” at least to them. “That girl,” that experience, was and is a huge part of my identity; it is a part of who I am, whether I choose to accept it or not.

There were obstacles I had to overcome because of my experience. But through these I gained insight into people in need that created a unique bridge, connecting me to others in a special way. I think it is a given to add that God had this in mind all along.

As I left my home in Guatemala for college in the U.S., I was overwhelmingly excited as well as afraid of the new world ahead. I felt like a girl who had grown up in a ship out at sea. The constant toss of the waves and unknown weather had become my home, but it was time to live “on land” in the U.S. My sea legs were wobbly and weak, but I ventured on my own anyway. The people on land struggled to understand why I had lived at sea. What was out there? What had I seen? I felt like a foreigner sometimes. I told people I grew up in Guatemala and answered any questions they had. This automatically put me in a different light to them, but I learned to be OK with that, because it was a part of me.

I am slightly ashamed to say that I did not immediately tell people about the many ways I had seen God work in and through my life, specifically my kidnapping story. I kind of ignored it for a little while, part of me hoping it might go away. I lost a little of my identity in that time. I didn’t know how people would react when I told them.

I began to tell some of my closest friends at school. God was gentle with me and slowly gave me opportunities to share with people, opening doors in which it was natural to talk about it.

That episode in my life, and the trials that came with it, changed the way I viewed myself. When I was put in such a position of complete surrender, it was as if the blinds were taken off of my eyes. I no longer saw in tunnel vision, seeing only my life and the pathway God had for me, but I was given a short glimpse of the big picture and the part I played in His master plan.

What I want for myself and what I deem “good” dulls in comparison to the plan God has for me. In the book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller gives a good depiction of this concept. He says, “I realized I was a tree in a story about a forest.” The night of the carjacking was all about God and the way He wanted to use me as an extension to touch other people’s lives. I was shown how God could take terrible circumstances in people’s lives and use them for His glory.

This story that I’m in right now is not about me. In fact, my life has little to do with me. “The girl in the story” is really a girl who plays a part in the huge ongoing story about God, where He uses His children to change other people’s lives and glorify Himself.

    About the Author

  • Bethani Thomas

    Bethani Thomas is an MK (missionary kid) whose parents, Jeff and Karen Thomas, serve in Guatemala with the International Mission Board.

    Read All by Bethani Thomas ›